Title:
Multiple stack dispensing container
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A disposable, non-refillable container for holding and gravity-fed dispensing folded articles is disclosed. The container holds multiple stacks or articles. The container is non-permanently affixed to a surface with a mount and the container dispenses an individual stack of articles from an individual dispensing opening when that stack is configured substantially above the dispensing opening. To dispense another stack of articles within the container, the container is reconfigured such that the next stack of articles is placed in position for dispensing. The container may also include an area of the container adapted for use as a waste receptacle.



Inventors:
Mitchell, Joseph (Alpharetta, GA, US)
Welchel, Debra N. (Woodstock, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/166529
Publication Date:
12/28/2006
Filing Date:
06/24/2005
Assignee:
Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47F1/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
COLLINS, MICHAEL
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KIMBERLY-CLARK WORLDWIDE, INC. (Neenah, WI, US)
Claims:
1. A disposable, non-refillable container for holding and gravity-fed dispensing folded articles comprising, an upper panel, a lower panel having at least a first dispensing opening, a front panel, a back panel, at least one side panel, a first dispensing column, formed by the cooperation of the upper, lower, front, back and side panels and configured to hold stacks of folded articles, a first support structure within the first dispensing column, and a mount which non-permanently affixes the container to a support surface, where the first dispensing opening is configured to dispense a first stack of folded articles when the container is attached to the support surface such that the first stack of articles is substantially above the first dispensing opening, and where the first support structure is configured to support the weight of at least a second stack of folded articles while the first stack of folded articles is being dispensed, and where the first support structure is further configured to be manipulated such that the second stack of folded articles may be delivered to the first dispensing opening after the first stack of folded articles has been dispensed.

2. The container of claim 1, further comprising a second support structure within the first dispensing column, where the second support structure is configured to support the weight of at least a third stack of folded articles while the first and second stacks of folded articles are dispensed, and where the second support structure is configured to be manipulated such that the third stack of folded articles may be delivered to the first dispensing opening after the first and second stacks of folded articles have been dispensed.

3. The container of claim 1, where the container is configured for the first support structure to be removed from the container.

4. The container of claim 1, further comprising a bracing structure that supports the first support structure, where the bracing structure is configured to be capable of removal from support of the first support structure.

5. The container of claim 1, further comprising a removable panel integrally connected to the first support structure, where the removable panel and integrally connected first support structure are configured to be removed from the container.

6. The container of claim 1, where the container and first support structure are configured for the first support structure to be pulled from and reinserted into the first dispensing column.

7. The container of claim 1, further comprising a second dispensing opening in the lower panel, and an interior wall, where the interior wall cooperates with the upper, lower and side panels to provide a second dispensing column horizontally adjacent to the first dispensing column and configured to hold stacks of folded articles, and where the second dispensing opening is configured to dispense a third stack of folded articles when the container is attached to the support surface such that the third stack of articles is substantially above the second dispensing opening.

8. The container of claim 7, further comprising a second support structure within the second dispensing column, where the second support structure is configured to support the weight of at least a fourth stack of folded articles while the third stack of folded articles is being dispensed, and where the second support structure is further configured to be manipulated such that the fourth stack of folded articles may be delivered to the second dispensing opening after the third stack of folded articles has been dispensed.

9. The container of claim 8 where the folded articles of the first stack are different than the folded articles of at least one of the second, third or fourth stacks.

10. The container of claim 1, where the first stack of folded articles comprises a plurality of folded articles each having an effective dispensing length dimension and the first stack having a pre-dispensing height dimension which is greater than the effective dispensing length dimension of an individual folded article within the first stack

11. The container of claim 1, where the back panel further comprises at least one end tab and where the first support structure is formed from at least one end tab of the back panel.

12. The container of claim 1, where the first support structure is a portion of the back panel.

13. The container of claim 1, where the first support structure is a portion of at least one side panel.

14. The container of claim 13, where the first support structure is a portion of two side panels.

15. The container of claim 1, further comprising at least one area configured for use as a waste receptacle.

16. A system for holding and gravity-fed dispensing a plurality stacks of folded articles comprising, a plurality of stacks of articles, a container which is adapted to contain the plurality of stacks of articles in one or more vertical dispensing columns, at least one support structure within a vertical dispensing column that supports the weight of at least one stack of articles while a first stack of articles is being dispensed, and a mount which non-permanently affixes the container to a support surface, where each stack within the plurality of stacks of articles is configured to dispense articles of said stack when the stack is substantially above a dispensing opening, and where the support structure is configured to be manipulated such that the stack of articles being supported by the support structure may be delivered to be dispensed after the first stack of articles has been dispensed

17. The system of claim 16, where the container is configured for the support structure to be removed from the container.

18. The system of claim 16, further comprising a bracing structure that supports the support structure, where the bracing structure is configured to be capable of removal from support of the first support structure.

19. The system of claim 16, where the container and support structure are configured for the support structure to be pulled from and reinserted into the container.

20. The system of claim 16, where the container comprises at least one area configured for use as a waste receptacle.

Description:

BACKGROUND

Various types of dispensers and dispensing containers have been developed to provide ready availability of articles to users. Such dispensers are common for dispensing paper products such as facial tissues, napkins, paper towels and the like. One common type of dispensing container dispenses paper products from the top of the container. Such containers often utilize a stack of folded products that are interfolded with each other so that when the top product is dispensed through the dispensing opening of the container, the next product is pulled to the dispensing opening for future dispensing.

While such dispensing containers conveniently provide the user with folded products (e.g., folded tissues), they are inherently limited in their capacity. The stack height of products in such top dispensing containers is limited by the dimensions of the paper product being dispensed. If the box is too high the next product to be dispensed will not be pulled to the dispensing opening with the product being dispensed. Instead, the next product is left down inside the dispenser where it can be very difficult to remove; the user has to reach down through the dispensing opening into the dispenser to retrieve the product.

One solution to the limited capacity of such dispensing containers is to use a container having two dispensing sections. When the first section is fully dispensed from the top, the container is flipped over and the second section is dispensed. The container essentially acts as two containers that are attached back-to-back. However, each dispensing section of such a container will have the same type of height limitation as the single stack dispensing discussed above.

Another type of solution is to use a mechanical or spring means to push the paper products toward the dispensing opening. These types of dispensers are often found in both vertical and horizontal configurations. However, such a mechanical solution requires additional parts which add costs and can malfunction or break. Such solutions are not economical in the context of disposable dispensing containers.

Gravity-fed dispensing is another solution to these issues. With gravity-fed dispensing the products are dispensed from the bottom of the stack. Gravity ensures that the next product is always available at the dispensing opening. However, the height of the stack in gravity-fed dispensing is also limited. The entire weight of the stack rests on the product that is being dispensed. If the stack is too heavy, the product being dispensed can be difficult to dispense; the product can be damaged or more product than is needed may be removed from the dispenser. This becomes even a greater issue when dealing with heavier paper products, such as heavy wipers or towels.

Another issue with dispensers of all types is that they are usually found in fixed locations. For example, the towel dispensers in a public restroom are generally fixed to the wall. A person who is looking to provide such paper products has to generally install a dispenser, but is then stuck with the location of that dispenser. It is difficult for those who want to provide paper products in a temporary location, or who wish to frequently change the dispenser location, to do so with traditional mounted dispensers.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In light of the problems and issues discussed above, it is desired to have a dispensing container that is able to dispense a large quantity of folded articles. It is also desired that the container be disposable and non-refillable. It is further desired that such a container be capable of being easily located and/or relocated wherever the user desires.

The present invention is directed to a disposable, non-refillable container for holding and gravity-fed dispensing folded articles. The container has an upper panel, a lower panel having at least a first dispensing opening, a front panel, a back panel, and at least one side panel. A first dispensing column is also present in the container and is formed by the cooperation of the upper, lower, front, back and side panels and is configured to hold stacks of folded articles. The container also has a first support structure within the first dispensing column and a mount which non-permanently affixes the container to a support surface. The first dispensing opening is configured to dispense a first stack of folded articles when the container is attached to the support surface such that the first stack of articles is substantially above the first dispensing opening. The first support structure is configured to support the weight of at least a second stack of folded articles while the first stack of folded articles is being dispensed. This first support structure is configured so that it may be manipulated such that the second stack of folded articles may be delivered to the first dispensing opening after the first stack of folded articles has been dispensed.

In various embodiments of the present invention the first support structure may be so manipulated by the container being configured for the first support structure to be removed from the container; the container having a bracing structure that supports the first support structure that can be removed from support of the first support structure; a removable panel integrally connected to the first support structure, where the removable panel and integrally connected first support structure are configured to be removed from the container; or the container and first support structure may be configured for the first support structure to be pulled from and reinserted into the first dispensing column.

In some embodiments the container may also have a second support structure within the first dispensing column, where the second support structure is configured to support the weight of at least a third stack of folded articles while the first and second stacks of folded articles are dispensed. This second support structure is configured to be manipulated such that the third stack of folded articles may be delivered to the first dispensing opening after the first and second stacks of folded articles have been dispensed.

In other embodiments the container may also have a second dispensing opening in the lower panel, and an interior wall. The interior wall cooperates with the upper, lower and side panels to provide a second dispensing column horizontally adjacent to the first dispensing column and configured to hold stacks of folded articles. The second dispensing opening is configured to dispense a third stack of folded articles when the container is attached to the support surface such that the third stack of articles is substantially above the second dispensing opening. In further embodiments such a container may have a second support structure within the second dispensing column, where the second support structure is configured to support the weight of at least a fourth stack of folded articles while the third stack of folded articles is being dispensed. This second second support structure may be configured to be manipulated such that the fourth stack of folded articles may be delivered to the second dispensing opening after the third stack of folded articles has been dispensed.

In embodiments of the present invention the folded articles of the first stack are different than the folded articles of at least one of the second, third or fourth stacks. In some embodiments the first stack of folded articles comprises a plurality of folded articles each having an effective dispensing length dimension and the first stack having a pre-dispensing height dimension which is greater than the effective dispensing length dimension of an individual folded article within the first stack

In various embodiments of the present invention the first support structure may be formed from at least one end tab of the back panel; from a portion of the back panel; from a portion of at least one side panel; or from a portion of two side panels.

In another embodiment the container may have one area configured for use as a waste receptacle.

The invention is also directed to a system for holding and gravity-fed dispensing a plurality stacks of folded articles. The system is made up of a plurality of stacks of articles, a container which is adapted to contain the plurality of stacks of articles in one or more vertical dispensing columns, at least one support structure within a vertical dispensing column that supports the weight of at least one stack of articles while a first stack of articles is being dispensed, and a mount which non-permanently affixes the container to a support surface. Each stack within the plurality of stacks of articles is configured to dispense articles of said stack when the stack is substantially above a dispensing opening. The support structure is configured to be manipulated such that the stack of articles being supported by the support structure may be delivered to be dispensed after the first stack of articles has been dispensed.

In various embodiments of the system the support structure may be so manipulated by the container being configured for the support structure to be removed from the container; the container having a bracing structure that supports the support structure that can be removed from support of the support structure; or the container and first support structure may be configured for the first support structure to be pulled from and reinserted into the first dispensing column.

In an embodiment of the system the container has at least one area configured for use as a waste receptacle.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an embodiment of the container of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a front cross-sectional view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention

FIG. 4A is a perspective view of a single folded article as may be contained and dispensed by the container of the present invention.

FIG. 4B is an end view schematic of an interfolded stack of the folded articles of FIG. 4A (not to scale) such as may be contained and dispensed by the container of the present invention.

FIG. 5A is a rear perspective view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention showing the end tab of a back panel folded in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 5B is a side cross-sectional view of the container illustrated in FIG. 5A.

FIG. 6A is a rear perspective view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention showing a portion of the back panel folded in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 6B is a side cross-sectional view of the container illustrated in FIG. 6A and showing a portion of the back panel folded down in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 6C is a front perspective view of the container illustrated in FIG. 6A.

FIG. 7A is a rear perspective view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention showing a portion of the back panel folded in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 7B is a side cross-sectional view of the container illustrated in FIG. 7A and showing a portion of the back panel folded down in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 7C is a front perspective view of the container illustrated in FIG. 7A.

FIG. 8A is a perspective view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention showing a portion of a side panel folded in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 8B is a front cross-sectional view of an embodiment of the container of the present invention, similar to that shown in FIG. 8A, showing a portion of both side panels folded in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 8C is a front cross-sectional view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention, similar to that shown in FIG. 8A, showing a portion of both side panels folded in to the interior of the container and interlocking with one another.

FIG. 8D is a top cross-sectional view of the container of FIG. 8C and showing the interlocking of the portions of side panels folded in to the interior of the container.

FIG. 9A is a front perspective view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention.

FIG. 9B is a front perspective view of the container of FIG. 9A showing a removable panel removed for access to a removable weight support structure.

FIG. 10A is a front perspective view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention.

FIG. 10B is a front perspective view of the container of FIG. 10A showing a removable panel.

FIG. 11 is a front cross-sectional view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention showing multiple dispensing columns and a trash receptacle section.

FIG. 12 is a front cross-sectional view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention showing multiple dispensing columns and multiple trash receptacle sections.

FIG. 13A is a back view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention with a mounting means.

FIG. 13B is a side view of the embodiment of FIG. 13A attached to a substantially vertical surface.

FIG. 14A is a back view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention with a mounting means.

FIG. 14B is a side view of the embodiment of FIG. 14A attached to a substantially vertical surface.

FIG. 15A is a back view of another embodiment of the container of the present invention with a mounting means.

FIG. 15B is a side view of the embodiment of FIG. 15A attached to a substantially vertical surface.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention is a disposable, non-refillable container capable of gravity-fed dispensing of two or more stacks of folded articles. The articles dispensed by the container of the invention are any articles capable of being dispensed. Such articles may include, but are not limited to, facial tissue, toilet tissue, napkins, wipers, towels, absorbent personal care products (e.g., diapers, feminine care products, incontinence products), and the like. Such articles may be individually folded and stacked on top of each other or may be interfolded such that the folds of each individual folded article partially overlaps the folds of the folded article that is adjacent in the stack.

The plurality of stacks of articles to be dispensed by the containers of the present invention may be stacks of all the same type of articles. For instance, all of the stacks may be paper towels. Alternatively, the individual stacks of the container may each be a different type of article or the stacks may be a combination of similar and different types of articles. For example, a single container may dispense one or more stacks of facial tissue and one or more stacks of paper towel. In another example, the same container may dispense stacks of towels, stacks of tissues, stacks of wipers, and stacks of absorbent personal care products. In a further example, the same container may have multiple stacks of the same type of articles (e.g., diapers), but each stack may be a different size of that type of article (e.g., a stack of small-sized diapers, a stack of medium-size diapers, and a stack of large-size diapers). The articles and stacks contained within the container may be any combination of articles and attributes that the user desires.

The container of the present invention is intended to be a disposable, non-refillable dispenser of articles. The articles are loaded into the container during manufacture and delivered to the user as a single dispensing system. The user may use the dispenser on any substantially vertical surface they desire and dispose of the entire container when the articles have been dispensed; users need only to replace the empty container with a new container rather than refill the container. This reduces the amount of attention the user has to give the container and prevents problems with container overstuffing. Additionally, such a disposable container may be used wherever the user wishes to dispense the articles of the container; the user is not limited to dispensing locations where traditional dispensers have been installed (e.g., in or on a wall in a public restroom).

The container may be made of any material that can contain and dispense the articles of the present invention. Preferably, the container may be made of heavy paper, cardboard or plastic, but it may be made of any other suitable material within the scope of the invention.

The containers of the present invention dispense the articles they contain with the aid of gravity. Prior art top or horizontal dispensing containers rely on interfolding of the articles or the use of mechanical springs or other such devices to push or pull the stack of articles to the dispensing opening. As discussed earlier, such additional parts add cost to those dispensers and may malfunction or break. The container of the present invention relies on gravity to dispense the articles while the container is in a substantially vertical configuration. As used herein, “substantialy vertical” refers to a surface or container configuration that is more vertical in nature than it is horizontal in nature; i.e., perfectly vertical to less than forty-five degrees from perfectly vertical. As used herein, “configuration” refers to a particular arrangement of parts or components relative to each other and to their surroundings.

As discussed above, prior art vertically oriented dispensers use interfolded articles to dispense those articles from the top of such dispensers. Gravity tends to work against those types of dispensers. As the article trailing the article being dispensed is being pulled upward by the preceding article, it is also being pulled in the opposite direction by gravity. Often, such articles will fall back into the dispenser and the user will have to reach down into the dispenser to retrieve the article. By dispensing from the bottom of the container, the container of the present invention dispenses with the aid of gravity rather than working against gravity.

The containers of the present invention, such as the container 10 shown in FIG. 1, dispense from a bottom surface of the container. In such a configuration, the stack of articles that is being dispensed will be substantially above the individual article being dispensed. The surface through which the articles are dispensed will often be the bottommost surface of the container 10. It is possible that the container may have surfaces lower than the surface through which the articles are dispensed, but in those cases the article being dispensed will still be dispensed from the bottom of a stack of articles such that the stack will be substantially above the article being dispensed.

There are many configurations with multiple stacks of articles that are embodied in the present invention. In FIG. 1, the container 10 contains two stacks of articles that are vertically adjacent to each other with a first support structure 31 separating the two stacks, as seen in the cutout of FIG. 1. The vertical column of stacks of articles that dispense through the same dispensing opening, along with the first support structure 31 that separate the stacks, form a first dispensing column.

The container 10 has a front panel 25, an upper panel 26, a lower panel 24 opposite the upper panel 26, side panels 27, and back panel (not shown in FIG. 1) opposite the front panel 25 that forms the final side of the container 10. It should be understood that the terms “front”, “back”, “upper”, “lower”, and “side” are used only to describe the relative positions of each panel. All the panels 24, 25, 26 and 27 cooperate to provide the generally polygonally-shaped container 10 with inner compartments configured to hold multiple stacks of articles. As used herein, “configured” refers to particular arrangement of parts or components set up for operation especially in a particular way. During dispensing, as will be described below, any panel of the container 10 may be positioned lower than rest of the container 10 to allow gravity-fed dispensing through an opening in that panel.

The container 10 is shown as dispensing an article 12 from a first stack 41 of articles through the first dispensing opening 21. As seen in FIG. 1, the articles 12 of the first stack 41 are dispensed when the first stack 41 is oriented above the first dispensing opening 21. The first dispensing opening 21 is shown as an oval opening through the lower panel 24. However, the first dispensing opening 21 may be any closed-loop shape that allows for regular dispensing of the articles 12. Additionally, the first dispensing opening 21 may be formed by the removal of a portion of the lower panel 24 defined by a line of weakness, or the first dispensing opening 21 may be present on the container 10 as it is delivered to the user. The line of weakness may be perforations, scoring or other similar method of providing weakness in the material.

The first stack 41 is separated from the second stack 42 by a first support structure 31. As seen in the cutout of FIG. 1, the first support structure 31 supports the second stack 42 while the first stack 41 is being dispensed. When the first stack 41 is completely dispensed through the first dispensing opening 21, the container 10 and the first support structure 31 are configured such that the first support structure 31 no longer supports the second stack 42 and subsequently, the second stack 42 drops to take the space previous occupied by the first stack 41. The first support structure 31 may be manipulated to allow the suspended stack of product to drop into position for dispensing. As used herein, “manipulate” or “manipulated” or “manipulation” refer to: to operate with the hands and/or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner. To manipulate the first support structure 31, it may be removed, moved out of the way, influenced by acting on an operablely adjacent component or otherwise similarly manipulated. Once in position for dispensing, the articles 12 of the second stack 42 can then be dispensed from the first dispensing opening 21.

While the container 10 of FIG. 1 illustrates a dispensing column of two stacks of articles 41, 42, the container 10 may include more than two stacks of articles. FIG. 2 illustrates a container with dispensing column of three stacks of articles. As seen in the cutout of FIG. 2, a first support structure 31 supports a second stack 42 above a first stack 41 that is dispensing through the first dispensing opening 21. A third stack 43 is supported above the second stack 42 by a second support structure. As with the container of FIG. 1, when the first stack 41 is completely dispensed, the first support structure 31 is manipulated such that the second stack 42 can drop and occupy the space previously occupied by the first stack 41 for dispensing through the first dispensing opening 21. When the second stack 42 is completely dispensed, the second support structure 32 is manipulated such that the third stack 43 can drop and occupy the space previously occupied by the first stack 41 and second stack 42 for dispensing through the first dispensing opening 21.

The embodiments of FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate containers that dispense multiple stacks of articles from a single vertical dispensing column of such stacks. FIG. 3 illustrates another possible configuration of the container of the invention; the container may have more than one dispensing column of multiple stacks. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, there is a first dispensing column 310 and second dispensing columns 320 that dispense articles 12 through a first dispensing opening 21 and a second dispensing opening 22, respectively. The dispensing columns are horizontally adjacent and separated by an interior wall 37.

Each of the dispensing columns 310, 320 are shown in FIG. 3 as having two vertically adjacent compartments from which two stacks of articles 12 may be dispensed. A first stack 41 of articles 12 may be contained in the first dispensing section 311 of the first dispensing column 310 and another first stack 41 may be contained in the first dispensing section 321 of the second dispensing column 320. Likewise, a second stack 42 of articles 12 may be contained in the respective second dispensing sections 312, 322 of the dispensing columns 310, 320. In each dispensing column 310, 320, the first dispensing sections 311, 321 and the second dispensing sections 312, 322 are separated by first support structures 31 that separate the first and second stacks 41, 42 within each of the dispensing columns 310, 320. When the first stack 41 is completely dispensed from either of the first dispensing sections 311, 321, the first support structures 31 may be manipulated such that the second stack 42 will drop from the respective second dispensing section 312, 322 and dispense from the space previously occupied by the first stack 41.

It is contemplated that greater than three or four stacks of articles may be dispensed from such containers. As can be seen by the few examples discussed above, there are many different combinations of container configurations that may dispense multiple stacks of articles. More horizontally adjacent dispensing columns may be added to a container, such as shown in FIG. 3, and each of those dispensing columns may dispense more than two stacks of articles, in a manner similar to that illustrated in FIG. 2. Different relative sizes of stacks and horizontal or vertically adjacent configurations may all be modified individually or in combination to produce a container configuration that meets the dispensing needs of the particular articles being dispensed.

An example of the type of article that can be dispensed from the container 10 of the present invention is shown in FIG. 4A. The article 12 shown in FIG. 4A is a single sheet which has been folded in half to create a folded or lead edge 17. The article 12 also has a trailing edge 13 which is formed by the two ends of the article 12 which now reside in a position adjacent to one another. A second fold 15 is imparted to the article 12 substantially parallel to the lead edge 17. The second fold 15 divides the effective dispensed length of the article 12 into a trailing flap 14, having a length L1, and a leading flap 16, having a length L2. The “effective dispensed length” of the article 12 is the length the user will have to pull the article 12 from a dispensing opening of the container 10 to remove the article 12 from the container 10. As shown for the article 12 of FIG. 4A, the effective dispensed length is the additive lengths of the leading and trailing flaps L1, L2.

The articles 12 are dispensed from a stack 120 of such articles 12 as illustrated in FIG. 4B. FIG. 4B shows a schematic end view of an interfolded stack 120 of five articles 12. In practice, a stack 120 would preferably comprise over 100 articles 12. For purposes of clarity, only five articles 12 are shown in FIG. 4B and they have been labeled A, B, C, D, and E. The stack 120 of articles 12 would be dispensed from the container 10 of the present invention by removing articles 12 from the bottom of the stack 120. As shown in FIG. 4B, the user would grasp the leading flap 16 of the bottommost article A and pull the article 12 from a dispensing opening of the container 10. The leading flap 16 of the next article B would then be available at the dispensing opening for ready dispensing.

The fold pattern of the individual articles 12 and the interfolding of the articles 12 into a stack 120 as shown in FIGS. 4A and 4B are shown as non-limiting examples. The container 10 of the present invention may dispense articles 12 that are folded in any of the numerous ways that articles 12 are folded and are well known in the art. Additionally, the stack 120 may be interfolded in any of the numerous ways that are well known in the art or the stack 120 may not be interfolded at all.

The actual interior dimensions of the containers 10 of either of FIGS. 1-3 are dependent on the size and weight of the articles being dispensed. One of the advantages of the containers 10 of the invention is the ability of the container 10 to dispense a stack of articles that has a greater stack height, prior to dispensing any of the articles 12 of the stack 120, than the effective dispensing length of any one folded article 12 within the stack 120. In FIG. 4B, if the articles 12 are dispensed from the top of the stack 120, the last flap length (shown in FIG. 4B as the leading flap 16 of article E) of the uppermost article E would pull on the next article D such that the next article D would be brought to the dispensing opening for later dispensing. Where articles 12 are dispensed from the top of the stack 120, the original stack height H (i.e., the height H of the stack prior to dispensing any of the articles 12) will be limited to some height H less than the effective dispensing length of any individual article 12. If the height H is greater than the effective dispensing length of an individual article 12, at some point in dispensing the articles 12, an article 12 will no longer be able to bring the next article up to the dispensing opening. Additionally, in the case where the dispensing opening cannot hold on to the next article to be dispensed, a higher stack height H will correspond to a deep dispensing section that would be inconvenient for a user to reach down into to retrieve a fallen article.

The container 10 of the present invention dispenses the articles from the bottom of the stack 120 and thus does not have the same limitation on the height. The height H of the stack 120 of articles 12 in the container 10 of the present invention is only limited by the size and weight of the stack of articles 12 being dispensed and the design of the dispensing opening. As is well known in the art, if too much stack weight is pressing on the article that is being dispensed, the dispensing article will be difficult to dispense and may be damaged during removal.

For example, the inventors have found that a stack of paper towels having a stack height H of approximately 13 inches (33 cm) may be effectively dispensed from a container 10 of the present invention. Paper towels having a basis weight of 45 grams per square meter, and measuring 8 inches (20.3 cm) in width and 12 inches (30.5 cm) in length, were folded in half and interfolded in the fashion shown in FIGS. 4A and 4B. The effective dispensing length of the individual paper towels was 6 inches (15.2 cm). Each of the folded towels had an individual weight of approximately 2.8 grams.

The stack of towels was contained in a container with inside dimensions of approximately 8 inches (20.3 cm) wide by 3.75 inches (9.5 cm) deep. The towels were dispensed through an oval dispensing opening in the container which measured 7⅞-inches (20 cm) wide and 1.75 inches (4.4 cm) deep at its center point. The stack was positioned above the dispensing opening, such that the weight of the stack rested on the sheet to be dispensed. It was found that a stack of such towels having a pre-dispensing weight of approximately 900 grams could be dispensed through such an opening. The stack was approximately 13 inches (33 cm) tall and contained approximately 320 towels. Such a stack height H is greater than twice the effective dispensing length of the individual towels dispensed. Stack weights greater than 1070 grams were found to hinder acceptable dispensing, causing the sheet to tab or tear.

Different types of articles 12 of different weight, size and texture, along with differently designed dispensing openings, may allow for greater stack heights H or may require lower stack heights H. One skilled in the art would be able to adapt the stack height H, and the corresponding dimensions of the container 10 to meet the needs of the particular article 12 that is to be dispensed.

Several of the container configurations discussed above include a support structure to support a stack of articles while another stack of articles, vertically adjacent to the supported stack, is being dispensed from the lower portion of the container 10. To reduce material cost and simplify the production of such containers, it is desired that this support structure be a part of the body of the container 10.

FIGS. 5A and 5B illustrate a first support structure 31 formed from portions of the back panel 51 of the container. The back panel 51 of the container 10 shown in FIGS. 5A and 5B is formed from an upper back panel 53, which extends from the upper panel 26, and a lower back panel 55, which extends from the lower panel 24. The distal end of the upper back panel 53 forms an upper end tab 54 and the distal end of the lower back panel 55 forms a lower end tab 56. The upper and lower end tabs 54, 56 are folded inward as shown in FIG. 5A to form the finished container 10 such that the upper and lower back panels 53, 55 form a planar back panel 51. As seen in FIG. 5B, the upper and lower end tabs 54, 56 form the first support structure 31 on the interior of the container 10. The upper and lower end tabs 54, 56 may or may not be fastened together and they may or may not be attached to the interior surface of the front panel 25.

While the lower end tab 56 is shown as extending to the front panel 25 of the container 10, alternatively, one or both of the end tabs may only extend a portion of the distance from the back of the container toward the interior surface of the front panel 25. The end tabs may be longer than the distance from the back of the container to the front panel 25 and may have additional folds where they contact the interior of the front panel 25. The upper end tab 54 may be longer than the lower end tab 56 or the lower end tab 56 may be longer than the upper end tab 56. The relative sizes of the upper and lower back panels 53, 55 and the size and folds of the upper and lower end tabs 54, 56 may be appropriately designed to meet the needs of the articles to be dispensed and the desires of the user.

Another exemplary support structure may be formed from a portion of the back panel 51 of the container 10. As shown in FIGS. 6A and 6B, a portion of the back panel 51 may be designed to be folded in to the interior of the container 10. This back flap 67 may be any size portion of the back panel 51 that would be adequate to function as a support structure, but not so large that articles contained within the container 10 easily fall out though the resultant opening in the back panel 51. Although the back flap 67 is shown as a single piece of the back panel 51, the support structure may be formed from multiple strips of the back panel 51 that are folded up into the interior of the container 10 to form multiple back flaps 67. The back flap 67 is also shown as substantially rectangular in shape, but it may be any shape, symmetrical or symmetrical, that adequately performs the function of a weight supporting structure.

The first support structure 31 of FIGS. 6A and 6B further includes a bracket 35 operablely adjacent to the back flap 67 when it is folded in to the container 10 and which helps the first support structure 31 support the weight of a second stack 42 of articles 12 while a first stack 41 is being dispensed. As shown in FIGS. 6B and 6C, the bracket 35 may be a portion of front panel 25 that is pushed in to the interior of the container 10, leaving a bracket opening 61 in the front panel 25. Alternatively, the bracket 35 may be an additional piece of material or multiple pieces of material that have been attached to the interior surface of the front panel 25.

In a similar way, as shown in FIGS. 7A and 7B, a portion of the back panel 51 may be designed to be folded up in to the interior of the container 10. Rather than using a bracket 35, as in the embodiment of FIG. 6B, the first support structure 31 shown in FIGS. 7B and 7C includes a tab 69 which engages a notch 73 in the front panel 25 to help the first support structure 31 support the weight of a second stack 42. As shown in FIGS. 7B and 7C, the tab 69 is an integral portion of back flap 67 formed from a portion of the back panel 51. The notch 73 is a portion of the front panel 25 that has been removed and is appropriately sized to securely receive the tab 69.

FIGS. 8A, 8B, 8C and 8D illustrate embodiments of support structures formed from a portion of one or more of the side panels 27 of the container 10. FIG. 8A shows a portion of only one side panel 27 folded in to the interior of the container 10. This side flap 77 may be any size portion of the side panel 27 that would be adequate to function as a support structure, but not so large that articles contained within the container 10 easily fall out through the resultant opening in the side panel 27. The single side flap 77 may extend all the way to the interior surface of the opposite side panel where it may or may not be attached to the interior surface of the side panel. The side flap 77 may be supported by a bracket 35, as in FIG. 6B, or a tab 69 and notch 73, as in FIG. 7B.

Alternatively, as shown in FIGS. 8B and 8C, the first support structure 31 may be formed from side flaps 77 of more than one side panel 27 of the container 10. The side flaps 77 may be formed by a portion of a side panel 27 being folded down into the interior of the container 10 and a portion of the opposite side panel 27 being folded up into the interior of the container 10 as shown in FIG. 8B. As above, the side flaps 77 be supported by a bracket 35, as in FIG. 6B, or a tab 69 and notch 73, as in FIG. 7B. The sizes of the multiple side flaps 77 may be the same or they may be different.

Alternatively, the support structure may be formed from a portion both side panels 27 being folded up into the interior of the container 10 as shown in FIG. 8C. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 8C and 8D, the side flaps 77 are long enough to overlap in the interior of the container 10. The distal ends of both side flaps 77 contain a longitudinal slit 79 such that the side flaps 77 mutually engage each other.

The side flaps 77, may be long enough to overlap as in FIG. 8B or they may only extend a portion of the way into the interior of the container 10. As with the other embodiments of the support structures, the side flaps 77 may be any size or shape, symmetrical or asymmetrical, that meets the needs of the article being dispensed and the desires of the user.

The opening in one or more of the side panels 27 left when forming the support structure, providing the additional benefit of allowing the user to see into the interior of the container and thus acts as a gauge to the user as to the number of articles remaining to be dispensed. Markings on the exterior of the container 10 near the opening may aid the user in determining the relative number of articles remaining to be dispensed. Alternatively or in addition to exterior markings, the shape of the side flap may be designed such that a regular pattern would be formed about the periphery of the opening left in the side panel 27 that the user could utilize to estimate the articles remaining to be dispensed.

In the embodiments of the present invention, a single stack of articles 12 is dispensed while one or more stacks of articles are held in reserve vertically adjacent to the stack being dispensed. These one or more reserve stacks are separated from the stack being dispensed, and from each other, by support structures. When the dispensing stack is completely dispensed, these support structures are manipulated such that a reserve stack is allowed to drop into position for dispensing.

One method of such manipulation of the support structure is the removal of the support structure from the container 10. For example, a line of weakness may be incorporated into the container 10 to facilitate the removal of the support structure. The embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 5A and 5B show a line of weakness 57 that is incorporated into the lower back panel 55 of the container 10. While the line of weakness 57 is shown in FIG. 5A as on the lower back panel 55, a line of weakness 57 would be used wherever the support structure is attached to the container 10 in that particular embodiment. Such a line of weakness 57 may be a line of perforations, scoring, or other similar method of providing weakness in the panel 55. The line of weakness 57 allows the user to easily remove the first support structure 31 (i.e., the lower end portion 56) from the container 10 of FIG. 5A. To aid the user, a finger tab 59 could be incorporated into the line of weakness 57 which can give the user a starting point to separate the first support structure 31 from the container 10.

In other embodiments a tear strip may be used to facilitate the removal of the support structure 31; such an embodiment is illustrated in FIGS. 9A and 9B. As illustrated in FIG. 9A, a removable portion 85 defined by a tear strip 83 is located on the front panel 25 of the container. To remove the removable portion 85, the user grasps and pulls on the pull tab 87 which engages the tear strip 83 and separates the removable portion 85 from the front panel 25. As shown in FIG. 9B, the removable portion 85 is appropriately located on the front panel 25, such that when it is removed the first support structure 31 is made accessible for removal. The first support structure 31 can then be removed and the second stack 42 of articles 12 can drop down and made ready for dispensing.

The tear strip 83 is desirably formed by a tape, line, rope, and so forth, containing strong fibers within it. The tear strip 83 may be formed from a number of different materials, such as, but not by way of limitation, natural or synthetic fiber, plastic, metal wire, any combination(s) thereof, and so forth. It will be understood that material forming the tear strip would normally, but not by way of limitation, be applied to the shipping carton when it is in it flat form as a blank prior to formation. One such tear strip is available from H. B. Fuller Company, Linear Products Division, Vancouver, Wash., sold as OPEN SESAME®. Other tear strips as well as shipping cartons are available from Weyerhaeuser Company, Bowling Green, Ky. The tear strip 87 may be attached to the container 10 by any method, such as, by way of non-limiting example, adhesive, heat sealing, ultrasonically sealing, laminating, integrally formed with the container 10, and so forth.

As shown in FIG. 9A, the tear strip 83 includes a pull tab 87. The pull tab 87 is desirably, but not by way of limitation, formed as a portion of the front panel 25 of the container 10. In this instance, the pull tab 87 desirably is defined by perforations formed thereabout which permit the pull tab 87 to separate from the panel when released and grasped by a user. In addition, the pull tab 87 desirably includes pull indicia as well. The term “pull indicia”, as used herein, means any word(s), numeral(s), line(s), symbol(s), picture(s), and/or combination(s) thereof, and so forth, which indicate to a user the location, release, and method of use of the pull tab 87.

The support structure may alternatively be an integral part of a removable panel, such that the support structure is removed from the container 10 when the removable panel is removed. Such an embodiment is illustrated in FIGS. 10A and 10B. In the embodiment of FIGS. 10A and 10B a removable panel 90 with an integral first support structure 31 is incorporated with a container 10 having a slot 95 adapted for receiving the first support structure 31. The removable panel 90, in this embodiment is thus attached flush with the front panel 25 of the container. Additionally, tear strips 83 with pull tabs 87 are incorporated into the removable panel 90. When the first stack 41 of articles 12 is completely dispensed from the container 10, the removable panel 90 is released from the container 10 by the user pulling on the pull tabs 87 to engage the tear strips 83. As the first support structure 31 is an integral part of the removable panel 90, the first support structure 31 is removed with the removable panel 90 and the second stack 42 of articles is allowed to drop into place for dispensing.

Such removable panels with integral support structures could also be used in other examples of the invention. The removable panel may be incorporated into a side panel 27 or the back panel 51 of the container 10 or any other panel as the particular design of the container 10 warrants. For embodiments having multiple dispensing columns and multiple stacks, and thus multiple support structures within that column, the removable panel may be broken into separately removable sections. These sections may be defined by tear strips such that only the portion of the removable panel with the desired particular support structure is removed.

Rather than complete removal of the support structure, another method of manipulating the support structure is the removal of the bracing structures that support the support structure. For example, in the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 6A, 6B and 6C the first support structure 31 is supported by a bracket 35. When the first stack 41 is completely dispensed, the user can reach into the bracket opening 61 and pull back, or remove, the bracket 35 and thus allow the first support structure 31 (i.e., the back flap 67) to drop down along with the second stack 42 that it supported. Likewise, in the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 7A, 7B and 7C, when the first stack 41 is completely dispensed, the user can push the tab 69 back into the interior of the container 10 and thus allow the first support structure 31 (i.e., the back flap 67) to drop down along with the second stack 42 that it supported.

Finally, the container 10 itself may be designed to allow the support structures to be manipulated when another stack is to be dropped down for dispensing. For the embodiment shown in FIGS. 8C and 8D, the container 10 could be designed such that the side panels 27 are allowed to be pulled away from each other such that the side flaps 77 would also be pulled away from each other so they would no longer mutually engage each other. The side flaps 77 would then fall back into their original positions on the side panels 27 and allow the stack of articles 12 that they supported to drop to the dispensing opening. Similarly, rather than each of the entire side panel 27 being pulled away from each other, the container 10 could be designed such that only a single side panel 27 would be pulled away from the container 10. Alternatively, portions of the side panels 27 could be designed to allow for the side flaps 77 to be pulled away from each other.

Any of the panels incorporating a support structure could be made to be moveable such that the support structure is moved away from the container 10, allowing the supported articles to drop; the panel could then moved back into place to maintain the integrity of the container. Alternatively, the support structure itself may itself be adapted to be moveable in or out of the dispensing columns of the container 10. Each support structure then could be independently slid in or out in such a manner as to control the stacks of article 12 being dropped to the dispensing opening or on to another support structure.

Any of the above methods for manipulating the support structures of the container 10 could be used individually or in combination with one another. The examples and illustrated embodiments are not intended to be limiting. One skilled in the art can see that there are many possible configurations of possible containers 10 of the present invention and many possible methods of manipulating support structures within those configurations.

Additional utility may also be added to the container 10 by supplying the container 10 with replenishment indicia on the container 10 revealed by the removal of the support structure. The term “replenishment indicia”, as used herein, means any word(s), numeral(s), line(s), symbol(s), color(s), picture(s), and/or combination(s) thereof, and so forth, which indicate to a user that one or more stacks have been dispensed and that the container 10 will need to be replaced or otherwise serviced in the near future. For example, the replenishment indicia may include a message or colored panel on the front panel 25 of the container 10 of the embodiment of FIGS. 10A and 10B that is revealed when the removable panel 90 is removed. Another example would be the existence of opening in the front panel 25 of the container 10 that is formed by the removal of the removable portion 85 in the embodiment of FIGS. 9A and 9B. These examples are not intended to be limiting; the replenishment indicia may be any signal to the user that one or more support structures of the container 10 have been manipulated to allow a reserve stack to be dispensed.

The container 10 may also include viewing openings 71, as illustrated in FIGS. 6C, 7C, 9A, 9B and 10A, which allow the user to see how much of a stack of articles remains to be dispensed. Such indicia and viewing openings allow for the easy servicing of the containers 10 and helps prevent unexpectedly running out of articles 12.

Additional utility may also be added to the container of the invention by including one or more spaces within the container that may act as waste receptacles. Such spaces may be used to dispose of the dispensed articles after they are used or to dispose of other refuse. An embodiment of a container 10 with this added functionality is shown in FIG. 11. The container 10 of FIG. 11 has two dispensing columns 310, 320 from which stacks of articles may be dispensed. In addition there is an area between the dispensing columns 310, 320 within the container 10 that is available for use as a waste receptacle 100. The waste receptacle 100 may be accessed through openings made through one of the panels of the container 10.

FIG. 12 illustrates another possible configuration of the container 10 having available waste receptacles 100. The container 10 of FIG. 12 has a first, second and third dispensing column 310, 320, 330. Like the other dispensing columns 310, 320, the third dispensing column 330 is shown with a third support structure 33 and dispenses its stacks of articles from a third dispensing opening 23. In addition, two waste receptacle 100 sections are located between each of the dispensing columns. Alternatively, the waste receptacle 100 section may instead be located on the two ends of the container with the three dispensing columns horizontally adjacent between them. In either case, the waste receptacles 100 may be accessed through openings made through one of the panels of the container 10.

FIGS. 11 and 12 are only illustrative examples; other configurations of containers 10 with one or more waste receptacles 100 are possible. The size and shape of the waste receptacle(s) 100 may be any size or shape within the container 10 as is required or desired. In addition to additional spaces within the container 10 set aside as waste receptacles 100, the individual dispensing sections may also be adapted for use as waste receptacles 100 after the articles have been dispensed.

The container 10 is additionally designed to non-permanently attach to a substantially vertical support surface. As used here, the term “non-permanently” refers to the attribute that the container may be attached to a substantially vertical support surface, detached, and reattached to the surface, repeatedly, during the limited use-life of the container 10. The substantially vertical support surface may be any surface that when a container 10 is affixed to it will allow the articles to be dispensed in a downward direction (i.e., the majority of the stack of articles will be substantially above the particular dispensing opening). For example, the support surface may be, but is not limited to, a wall, a door, a post, a pole, a dispenser affixed to a wall or embedded into a wall, or the like. The embodiments of the container 10 of this invention may require removal from the support surface for disposal or for removal of the support structure 31 of the container. As such, the manner in which the container 10 is affixed to the vertical support surface must be non-permanent in nature. However, the means for attachment must also be strong enough and configured in such way that the container 10 is secured to the surface 135 while articles are dispensed from the container 10.

In the embodiment of FIGS. 13A and 13B, the container 10 is non-permanently affixed to a surface 135 by multiple attachment strips 130 on the back panel 51 of the container 10. The attachment strip 130 may be any type of material that will affix the container 10 to the surface 135, but will allow the container 10 to be removed from, and reaffixed to, the surface 135.

For example, the attachment strip 130 may be a pressure-sensitive adhesive or any other type of adhesive, as are well known, that would work for such purposes. Such an adhesive strip may be protected by a peel strip that covers the adhesive until the user wishes to affix the container 10 to a surface 135. Such an adhesive may be applied directly to the back panel 51 of the container 10 or may be in the form of two-sided adhesive tape. In another example, the attachment strip may be a hook or a loop material that affixes to corresponding loop/hook material on the surface 135 the container 10 is to be affixed.

The attachment strips 130 are illustrated in FIGS. 13A and 13B as two strips located on the back panel 51; one near the lower panel 24 and one near the upper panel 26. The attachment strips 130 may be of any shape, any dimension and in any position, relative to each other and to the back panel 51, that would securely affix the container 10 to the surface 135 during dispensing. For example, the attachment strips may be larger, smaller, vertically aligned, or otherwise configured on the back panel 51. Instead of two attachment strips 130 there may be more than two strips or there may be just one attachment strip.

FIGS. 14A and 14B illustrate a back tab 141 for affixing the container 10 to a surface 135. As shown, a portion of the back panel 51 may be adapted to be released from the back panel 51 along a line of weakness 143 in the back panel 51. Such a line of weakness 143 may be perforations, scoring or other similar method of providing weakness in the material. The back tab 141 may then be folded out of the plane of the back panel 51 and used to affix the container to the surface 135. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 14A and 14B, the back tab 141 has multiple receiving openings 145 which may be holes present in the back tab 141 or may be perforations in the back tab 141 where the back tab material may be removed. Such a receiving opening 145 may be attached to a mounting bracket 147 that is present on the surface 135. Instead of utilizing receiving openings 145, the back tab 145 may utilize an attachment strip. Such an attachment strip may be located on the interior of the container 10 until the back tab 145 is folded out of the plane of the back panel 51, to affix the container 10 to the surface 135. Alternatively, a combination of the back tabs 141, attachment strips 130, receiving openings 145, and mounting brackets 147 may be used.

The back tabs 141 in FIGS. 14A and 14B are shown to be portions of the back panel 51 that are folded out of the plane of the back panel 51 and support the container 10 from above. Alternatively, the back tabs 141 may be formed out of one or more portions side panels 27 that is folded back out of the plane of the side panel 27 and affixes the container 10 to the surface 135. The back tabs 141 may also be formed out of a combination one or more portions of the back panels 51 and the side panels 27.

In the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 15A and 15B, the container 10 is affixed to the surface 135 by a mounting connector 157 that connects with a receptor 155 on the back panel 51 of the container 10. The receptor 155, may be a holes in the back panel 51, holes that may be made in the back panel 51 by removing portions of the back panel 51 defined by perforations (as shown in FIG. 15A), or other means that will work in concert with the mounting connector 157 to affix the container 10 to the surface 135. For example, the back panel 51 may include a receptor 155 that will affix to mounting connector 157 that is recessed in the surface 135. In another example, the receptor 155 may be a magnetic material that will affix to a surface 135 made of metal or to a magnetic mounting connector 157.

Finally, the mounting connector 157 may be a bracket attached to the surface 135 designed such that the entire container 10 slips inside of or is otherwise wholly supported by the bracket.